‘The Good Liars’ On Their Midterm Campaign Pranks: What Worked, What Didn’t And Why Politics Has Gotten More Dangerous – Deadline

‘The Good Liars’ On Their Midterm Campaign Pranks: What Worked, What Didn’t And Why Politics Has Gotten More Dangerous – Deadline

When Herschel Walker wrapped up a campaign appearance several weeks ago, TV news cameras caught a man in sunglasses, briefly conversing with the U.S. Senate candidate as he tried to hand him a lengthy strip of condoms.

It was soon apparent that it was a gag and, generating at least two million views on Twitter, one of the more successful pranks executed by The Good Liars, the comedy duo of Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler who, since the Occupy protests of 2011, have specialized in infiltrating campaign events and, as best as they can, interacting with candidates and their supporters.

Their satire is largely focused on the Right. They have irritated Donald Trump by heckling him for being “boring.” They have performed an “exorcism” on Ted Cruz. This cycle, Stiefler interrupted a campaign event for J.D. Vance, running for U.S. Senate in Ohio, asking for a refund for Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy. Campaign aides quickly escorted him away. “Just $16.99 plus tax,” Stiefler shouted at Vance. “It just wasn’t that good.” 

The Brooklyn-based comics certainly are not the first to mine the campaign trail to skewer real-life absurdities. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show perfected it, most recently led by Jordan Klepper and his series of specials, while Sacha Baron Cohen has taken it a step further with the Borat movies. 

The Good Liars produced movies for the past two presidential cycles — Undecided: The Movie in 2016 and The Supporters in 2020— in which they interacted with candidates and political figures on both sides of the aisle. During a primary town hall in 2020, Selvig asked Joe Biden for advice on how to get his ex wife back. When Biden told him that he’d talk to him afterward, Selvig pressed further. “I’m beginning to see why your wife left you,” a frustrated Biden said.

The difference in the approach of The Good Liars may be in their undisguised brazenness, as a number of their pranks have made the news, fueling interest on social media. 

That was the case in May at the NRA convention when Selvig, having gotten access to a member forum led by its CEO Wayne LaPierre, delivered a satirical speech in which he insisted, “We give enough of these thoughts and these prayers, these mass shootings will stop.” Many in the audience appeared to not quite grasp the satire, but reporters picked up on it. Selvig said he had a little bit of trepidation going in, given the heavily armed crowd.

Obviously nothing happened, but the duo admit that they are a bit more concerned as to safety, what with political violence on the rise, and the possibility that their pranks will be misconstrued as something other than innocent albeit pointed political satire.

“Our main thought when we do comedy in the real world is we want everyone to be safe. We have a message with our comedy but we want it to be funny,” Selvig said. “And things are not funny if anyone is getting hurt.” 

They were in Washington, D.C. on January 6th and, after attending Donald Trump’s rally at the Ellipse, trekked to the Capitol grounds, where they witnessed the barricades being breached. That was one moment when they thought that things were getting out of hand, “and there was some real thought that we might not make it out alive right now. It does get scary,” Selvig said.

“People noticed we were holding a camera and a microphone and that immediately put a target on our backs,” Steifler. “We saw people destroying sound equipment, video equipment. Yeah, safety is definitely a concern, but we feel there is so much comedy and so much to say around all this, that I guess the cost benefit feels like we have to keep going out there. But it certainly is intense at times.”

They saw the condom stunt with Walker, Selvig said, as “a funny, in-your-face way to do a prank where people would get it right away. I think it went according to plan because we got the interaction with him. When we’re filming you just got to be really on your toes because your scene partners are not willing participants in your comedy. So it really was just like taking the opportunity when it was there to have the interaction with it.”

At one point, Walker said something to Selvig, which was not entirely clear to him, given the loud music playing. Walker wasn’t pushing him, he said, but “forcefully was touching me. And I was on the edge of the stage. So for a second there, I thought he was going to shove me off the stage. He’s a big guy, even as 60.” 

“I was a little worried about that. It was only a two-foot drop [from the stage], but still, I didn’t want that to happen. And I think once his campaign saw something was happening, they kind of got in between us, and that was that.”

Afterward, Selvig said, he and his crew “were followed for a little bit afterwards by some people. I don’t know if they were from the campaign or if they were just Herschel fans.”

Selvig and Stiefler then went to lunch afterward, and it was only when they checked their DMs that they realized that media outlets spotted the moment.

A Walker campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. 

Even after years of practice in pulling off an array of such stunts, they say it’s still a bit nerve wracking to be escorted off by security or shouted at by a campaign’s fervent supporters. They are at political rallies, after all, where the purpose is to stir up emotions.

“I think it is difficult,” Stiefler said. “I mean, we know what we’re getting into more than we are used to. But these people are really sold on what they believe and why they are there. It doesn’t change how it feels to have somebody really worked up and upset with you. We do it because we think it is worthwhile, but we understand that they are real people and they are upset with us and in the moment. It’s intense. We have gotten used to it to a degree so we are better and better at it. But I don’t know if ‘thicker skin’ is the word.”

Selvig said, “Even if you know how things have gone 99% of the time, there’s still a real world danger to some of it because we are doing it in the real word. Tension is so high in the country right now that if you give somebody the opportunity to be the bad guy, who knows what they’re going to do. When they really think you are the baddest of the bad, it can be a tricky situation.” 

The candidate, Stiefler points out, “might totally be their hero. We might totally, totally disagree with it, but it’s not lost on us that they’re real people that we’re upsetting. It is just kind of part of what we have decided to do.”

Many of the duo’s social media postings are interviews with supporters at campaign events, often to highlight the sometimes bizarre beliefs or inherent contradictions of campaign true believers. Stiefler interviewed a man who insisted that grade school students, identifying themselves as felines, were using litter boxes in school bathrooms. That’s been an urban myth that has spread in right wing media.

“You haven’t personally seen it?” Stiefler asked.

“I haven’t personally seen it, no,” the man admitted, before claiming that “some friends of ours their kids” witnessed it.

Another interview featured Selvig interviewing a Walker supporter who insisted abortion was murder, yet dismissed the reports that the candidate had paid for a girlfriend’s abortion. “We’ve all done bad things,” the man said. Walker has denied the claims.

Selvig declined to talk the “sausage making” that goes into the planning of the pranks. But in featuring interview subjects who are not public figures, they suggest that they are on solid legal ground. Stiefler points out that “we are in public places. Cameras are not hidden. People are there. These are public events. And so I think that is a big part of it in any documentary.”

He said that they have not gotten legal threats. When talking to rally goers, they will identify themselves by their names. Plenty of people, they say, don’t ask exactly what they are doing.

“We try and be as honest as possible. … There’s been an element of just holding the microphone and that’s enough,” Selvig said.

Stiefler said, “A lot of times it will end with, ‘Well, thanks a lot.’ And that’s that. Or ‘it’s for social media or YouTube or something.’ We don’t have any interest in misleading people, so it’s usually a conversation people want to be having, and it’s pretty simple in that way.”

Other times rally attendees will come up to them and just start talking. Some “want to let you know that John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive, and he is currently vice president with Donald Trump who is somehow president,” Selvig said. “They want to get this information out to the world, I guess because the mainstream media isn’t reporting on it, mainly because it is completely ludicrous.”

At a recent event in Kentucky, they were recognized as from The Good Liars by one man holding a giant Trump flag. He wanted to talk to them and said something “bizarre,” Selvig said, leaving them a bit puzzled as to whether the man was just “saying it for the camera or if he genuinely believed it.” Perhaps he’s countering their prank with his own satire?

Selvig and Stiefler found each other through the New York comedy scene and through friends’ regular basketball games. When the Occupy Wall Street protests started in 2011, they had an idea to go down to the protest dressed an investment bankers, telling those gathered that they wanted to “out-occupy Occupy Wall Street.” “Some of the media thought we were real no matter what we’d say, no matter how extreme it got, and we just thought it would be an interesting place for comedy,” Stiefler said.

When the 2016 election came around, “we got more and more involved in it, just doing these kinds of things — comedy in the real world.”

There isn’t really a counterpoint on the Right, albeit a number of conservative media outlets often have been known to show up at Democratic events and confront candidates with provocative questions.

The Good Liars may not win over many fans on the Right, but so much of humor these days falls along partisan lines. The Left has, for a number of reasons, dominated much of American satire for some time, the recent exception being the emergence of Greg Gutfeld and his success with his nightly Fox News show.

Stiefler said that their goal is to be funny and, with it, perhaps to get people a little more politically engaged. “We got in this for comedy’s sake and sometimes if you try and take yourself too seriously things get less funny,” he said.

“We keep reminding ourselves that what we are going needs to be funny, and if it has the byproduct of making people care more, that’s great. But we are hoping to be funny each and every time we go out,” he said.

Not every prank works, for varying reasons. Just before Election Day in 2016, they went to a Mike Pence event with the notion that Trump was on his way to sure defeat. Their idea was to go to the event in ponchos and pretend “like we were on a boat and a storm was coming and Pence should ditch Trump while he still could,” Stiefler said.

“We thought it was hilarious. Pence didn’t hear us. Everybody got super upset,” he said. It also got a little bit physical, as one person “took one of our camera guys’ cameras and swung it at us. We got kind of manhandled by security and then were just outside in our torn ponchos like, ‘I don’t know if that was that funny to begin with’,” he said.

“Then a couple days later, Trump wins the election,” Selvig noted. “Definitely not.”

They trekked to Washington, D.C. for the January 6, 2021, Trump rally, sensing that the event would be a big deal, but saw and heard warning signs of what was about to transpire the night before.

At their hotel, packed with Trump supporters, “It sounded like there were people playing pump up music, like screaming, ‘Let’s go baby. Let’s do this,’” Selvig said. “Like they were getting ready for war the next day. And sure enough you saw people, they were in Army fatigues. They were wearing bulletproof vests and riot gear and all that stuff.”

The next day, at Trump’s rally, “We had no idea how crazy it was going to get, but standing out there talking to people outside of the speech, feeling that tensions were kind of rising, I was actually like, ‘Let’s get out of town. It’s starting to feel bad.’”

After the crowd headed to the Capitol, they went to observe what was happening, but Stiefler said that “our comedy goals went out the window for a little while when we saw them kind of break through, started seeing the flashes of light, the smoke. We just were wondering if everything was falling apart right in front of us.” They not too long after the mob breached the police barricades.

“It felt like it was a warzone, more than anything,” Selvig said.

They don’t have the sunniest of outlooks on where politics is headed, but are not stopping. As they look to 2024, with an eye for another project during the presidential election year, they have taken to calling their earlier days, like 2016, almost seems like a different era. 

“We still enjoy what we do, but the temperature has risen so much that [2016] was a time where it felt like it was the ‘before times’ in some ways,” Stiefler said.

“We don’t want to alarm people,” Selvig said. “It’s usually not like a confrontational thing that we are trying to do. We are trying to do something funny with our interruptions. Our audience watching thinks it’s funny. Maybe not the people that are in the auditorium that we’re interrupting.”

This content was originally published here.

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